Ninh Binh – Sacred land of heroes

Promoting its claim to be a sacred land once home to the capitals of three imperial dynasties Dinh, Tien Le and Ly, the region is linked to major changes in the nation’s history. According to Associate Professor Pham Mai Hung, vice-chairman of Viet Nam’s Cultural Heritage Association, nature has bestowed Ninh Binh with hills and mountains in the northwest, and plains and coastal areas in the southeast – all rich in fauna and flora.

“Moreover, its intricate river systems created an important Geo-political barrier throughout history. The existence of dynasties Dinh Tien Hoang (968-980), Le Dai Hanh (980-1009) and Ly Thai To (1009-1226) were lively evidence.”

The Director of the provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Lam Quang Nghia, says the first international conference on spiritual tourism will be held from November 21-22. It has been organised by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the United Nations World Tourism Organization and the Ninh Binh People’s Committee. It will be held in the spiritual tourism complex at Bai Dinh Pagoda.

The conference was the initiative of the Secretary General of the UN World Tourism Organisation, Taleb Rifai, after visiting Viet Nam. According to the Organisation, spiritual tourism has much potential for development in Asia and the Pacific. “Introducing the tourism potential of Viet Nam – and Ninh Binh Province in particular – will create a forum for the development of this type of tourism,” he says.

The ancient capital of Hoa Lu attracts large numbers of tourists from around Viet Nam and overseas. In Ninh Binh, tourists explore many popular spiritual tourism sites.

These include the One-Pillar Pagoda (Nhat Tru), an ancient pagoda in Truong Yen Commune, Hoa Lu District. It has been ranked a national monument along with a temple for King Le Dai Hanh.

Researcher Ha Manh Khoa from the Institute of History says of special interest in the temple is a stone column carved with Buddhist prayers erected by King Le Dai Hanh in 995. The column is 4.16m high. Its eight faces have about 2,500 ancient Han characters praising Buddhism.

The Trang An landscape complex, one of the most attractive destinations in Ninh Binh, is now being submitted to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for recognition as a World Heritage Site.

Among the well-known historical sites in Ninh Binh, Phat Diem Stone Cathedral in Kim Son District is an architectural masterpiece. Its unique feature is that while it is a Catholic church, it was built in the style of a traditional Buddhist pagoda.

Nhat Tru Pagoda, the ancient capital of Hoa Lu, the spiritual complex at Bai Dinh Pagoda, Trang An landscapes, and Phat Diem Stone Cathedral lure many visitors, especially Buddhists and Catholics. Dinh The Thap, director of the provincial Statistics Department says, the province had received more than 4.18 million visitors by the end of October 2013, an increase of 20.8 per cent over the same period last year.

Venerable Thich Duc Thien, Deputy General Secretary of Viet Nam Buddhist Sangha’s Executive Council, says the Sangha recently conducted a survey on the facilities of Bai Dinh Pagoda to prepare for the United Nations Vesak 2014 (a very important event of international Buddhism) to be held in the pagoda. The Government has already approved the Sangha’s plan to celebrate the Vesak festival at Bai Dinh Pagoda.

“We believe that the UN Vesak 2014 festival will be solemn and abundant with activities,” he says.

The provincial People’s Committee vice chairman, Tran Huu Binh, recommends Ninh Binh focus on two types of tourism: Eco-tourism and cultural tourism, which includes spiritual sites such as these Buddhist pagodas. “The successful organization of the conference will confirm the advantages that Vietnam’s tourism sites have for regional and international tourists and contribute to freedom of belief and religion in the country,” he says.